I stopped into Javier Niño’s gallery located on Lazaro Cardenas #322 expecting to chat about his art and esoteric philosophies though Javier gifted us with a mesmerizing history lesson about Puerto Vallarta as well. As with most creatives our conversation was not linear bouncing from the historical to the personal.
Javier Niño is the most prominent artist of Vallarta Art living today. Once called “naive”, Vallarta Art is a style of painting made world famous by Manuel Lepe, though Javier would never limit himself therefore his paintings include intriguing abstract art.
Javier was born in Puerto Vallarta in 1950 to a mother and grandparents who were also born in Puerto Vallarta. His great grandparents were from Yelapa. In 1950 Puerto Vallarta had five thousand inhabitants and its borders stretched from the Hotel Rio to Parque Hildalgo. That was it, truly a paradisiacal pueblo.
Javier’s great grandmother was pure “indigena”. Her tribe was called “Chacala” and was from Cabo Corrientes. Cabo Corrientes at that time was pure indigena, which included El Tuito, Yelapa, Quimixto and more . This region to this day is recognized as an indigenous area. The populace of Vallarta in 1950 was a mixture of original indigenous and mestizos possibly stemming from 1800’s when a ship named the “Estrella del Norte” came to the bay and noticed the beautiful and useful dug out canoes the indigenous used for fishing. The captain of the ship contracted with the local fishermen to produce more canoes which he transported up north to sell.
The captain along with the Estrella de Norte returned to the bay teaching the local fishermen to process shark oil, which again he conveyed many times up north for more sales. This part of the story made me laugh inwardly because of all the old stories and jokes I had heard about snake oil and charlatans.
Regardless, in that era shark oil was used as a folk remedy for many ailments.
So those who claim Vallarta was not originally a fishing village may be wrong. Javier also confirms that indeed the Bahia de Banderas was a pirate’s playground and the pirates originated from England and Holland. Javier told me they would steal pearls and other valuables from the locals.
Bouncing now our conversation turned back to the personal. At 7 years old walking home from school Javier noticed Manuel Lepe who was then 16 years of age painting in front of a tienda de abarrotes. Manuel charmed by the young boy gave him some inks to paint with, from there lifelong friendship was formed, in fact Javier’s first art show was at Manuel Lepe’s gallery.
Javier shared that most people walked barefoot in the small pueblo that was Vallarta hence the term Patas Saladas. As a self-taught young artist Javier drew caricatures in primary school of classmates and teachers granting him a reputation as a devious prankster.
Javier continued his secondary education in Guadalajara where a teacher suggested he attend the esteemed art academy, La Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City. Here Javier discovered Classical, Cubism, Impressionism and other modes of painting.
As a young student Javier was moving from room to room when a classmate suggested he move into a spiritual ashram in Coyoacan where he could live though classes were mandatory in esoteric studies. The ashram was a block away from Frieda Kahlos famous “Blue house”. With his art studies and spiritual curriculum Javier’s paintings began to evolve.
At 23 years of age the young artist returned to Vallarta and rented a primitive palapa in Paso Ancho with the intention of creating his own ashram and continued to paint and practice the spirituality he’d learned in Mexico.
When I asked Javier about his artistic process he stated that his art comes from his soul. Each time he starts with a fresh canvas he isn’t sure where it will go. He allows his spirit to guide him.
Sr.Niño’s art continued and continues to be collected, winning awards nationally and internationally.
You can view Javier’s Art Vallarta murals at Puerto Vallarta’s International airport, the Isste government institute and even at Posada Roger.
On a personal note Javier has been married to his wife Rosa Maria since 1979 and they have three adult sons who also paint, some as a hobby, some professionally. Javier favors both Quimixto and Las Animas beaches to unwind, dream and delight in nature.